Susan Mead: Building Consensus, Envisioning Success

May 12, 2013 | Spotlight

For most people, words like “platting” and “zoning” don’t conjure thoughts of creativity, vision, or passion. That’s not the case for experienced land use attorney Susan Mead, a partner at Jackson Walker. For her, these are key aspects of a successful practice in land use and development law.

Susan Mead“You’ve got to be creative; you’ve got to solve problems,” Ms. Mead says.

That’s just what Ms. Mead does, advising developers on zoning restrictions and setback requirements, arranging for variances, and evaluating zoning change requests. Essentially, she anticipates and handles anything that might impact a development project — long before costly architectural plans are drawn up and expensive resources are committed.

“The simplest thing can go wrong,” Ms. Mead says. “We’re looking to ward off problems before they happen.”

Ms. Mead also facilitates complex land use projects by bringing together city leaders, neighborhood groups, and developers to work out potential concerns before they become contentious issues. On Dallas’s recent Downtown Tax Increment Financing District project, which created a fund for public improvements and mixed-use development in the downtown area, Ms. Mead and her team formulated economic development incentives for developers, filed applications with the city, and assisted in the creation of the district and development agreement — all while working with property owners, elected officials, and city staff to reach consensus.

The ability to juggle all of these players and positions is only one prerequisite of the job. In this fast-paced and fluid arena, vision is also crucial.

“We’re looking to ward off problems before they happen.”

— Susan Mead

“Anything can change based on feedback from a civic group, or the results of a study,” Ms. Mead says. “But sometimes a minor adjustment can solve a problem, if you can see it. Being visual helps.”

That’s where Ms. Mead’s degree in art and art history comes in handy. Other attorneys in Jackson Walker’s land use practice — the largest in the southwest — also have useful degrees, ranging from urban planning to architecture to political science. With backgrounds like these, the attorneys in the practice approach their work with an uncommon level of personal enthusiasm.

And that’s another key to success, in Ms. Mead’s opinion — framing a legal practice around natural interests. “Attorneys should do what they’re passionate about,” she says.

For Ms. Mead — an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and a longtime participant in neighborhood preservation efforts — the passion comes easily. As for vision and creative problem-solving, those are arts she has undeniably mastered.

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